Bennett bill hopes to slow the theft of catalytic converters

Published 6:24 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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By Alex Guerrero

There’s a growing problem occurring around the nation: catalytic converter thefts.

Catalytic converters are part of a car’s exhaust system and are used to convert harmful carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides into carbon dioxide, nitrogen and water vapor.

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But the converters contain valuable metals and are expensive for owners to replace.

District 23A Rep. Peggy Bennett wants to do something about that, and introduced a bill making possession of an unauthorized catalytic converter a crime.

“I know [theft of catalytic converters] is rampant in our state, in particular in the metro area, but it has eked out into our rural communities as well,” she said. “Actually, some representatives from the Albert Lea Police Department contacted me last year because they were having issues with this.”

And they were wondering if something would be done to address the issue at the state level. The issue is such a problem Bennett said local towns and cities were enacting their own legislation, including Shakopee.

“The Albert Lea Police Department people who actually contacted me just said [they’d] rather see something happen statewide than city-by-city,” she said.

She described the problem as “huge” and felt there weren’t laws to really penalize catalytic converter thefts.

Bennett’s proposal isn’t the only one being considered, and she noted some of the bills targeted manufacturers and asked them to keep records, actions that cost money for businesses.

“I personally don’t think we should be targeting the manufacturers that make these and making them more difficult for them, cause that drives up the cost for all of us when we purchase vehicles,” she said.

Bennett said she considered doing something about it last year before determining it was too late in the session to act on it, though she toyed with the idea of adding it as an amendment.

According to a news release from Bennett, the proposal would make possession of a used catalytic converter not attached to a motor vehicle a misdemeanor offense unless it was marked with a date of removal and the vehicle’s ID number, or if it had been certified for reuse as a replacement part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Anyone convicted of the crime would be forced to pay restitution to victims.

“That way when someone, if law enforcement comes across somebody with a used catalytic converter, they can track it down to the vehicle that came from, and if it legally came from that vehicle then no problem,” she said. “If it’s not marked or it’s marked with something that’s not accurate, then there’s going to be a problem.”

Her bill also contains a restitution component that includes the costs of replacing a catalytic converter.

“My bill targets the criminals, which is what we should be targeting,” she said, and argued the best way to stop theft was by having proper penalties, holding criminals accountable for their actions.

Bennett also disagreed with bills that would put burdens on manufacturers and car dealers.

“I think the burden should be upon the criminals who are breaking laws,” she said. “If we put the burden on to the businesses that are doing this legally or manufacturing them — and again the cost goes to all of us cause they’re going to have to recoup the costs of this intricate record-keeping or special markings at the manufacturer level — that all gets passed down to the consumer and then the costs go up for us when we buy our vehicles, or we need to buy a new catalytic converter.”

According to Bennett, the bill received discussion in the public safety committee, and there were other proposals addressing the problem in the pipeline, but she believed the best way to address the problem was by targeting criminals and holding them accountable.

So far, her bill hadn’t received an official hearing, but noted it was discussed and she’s optimistic the bill will receive a hearing. She also wanted to talk to Rep. Kelly Moller, the chair of the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee.

“I hope it passes,” she said. “If somebody else has a better idea, boy I’m willing to listen to that,” she said, adding she didn’t want burdensome legislation on manufacturers and car dealerships.